Celebrating Nigeria’s Independence – History Lesson 7

Yoruba maskLife mask of Osifekunde commissioned by Pascal d’Avezac-Macaya around 1838 from “Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade” by Phillip d. Curtin.

“Osifekunde of Ijebu”

Osifekunde was an Ijebu man who was captured and sold to Brazilian slave merchants by Ijaw pirates when he was 20 years old in the early 1800s (Pascal d’Avezac-Macaya estimates that Osifekunde was captured around the 1810s).

About 20 years after Osifekunde was forcibly transferred to Brazil, he accompanied his master to Paris where he was employed as a servant and went by the names ‘Joaquim’ and ‘Joseph’. In Paris he happened upon Pascal d’Avezac-Macaya, an ethnographer and vice-president of the Societe Ethnologique of Paris, who had a keen interest in Africa. Pascal d’Avesac-Macaya interviewed Osifekunde (in pidgin Portuguese since Osifekunde spoke little or no French at the time) for weeks and Osifekunde’s recollection of Ijebu Ode and Lagos (published by Pascal d’Avezac-Macay in 1845) became an important addition to European knowledge of the Guinea Coast.

Pascal d’Avesac-Macaya arranged for Osifekunde to move to Sierra Leone (then a British colony established as a home for freed slaves) but Osifekunde didn’t take the offer and according to P.C. Lloyd “preferred servitude under his former master in Brazil, where he could be with his own son”. There are no accounts of Osifekunde after his chance encounter with Pascal d’Avezac-Macaya.

Seemingly frustrated by the transient nature of his encounter with Osifekunde, Pascal d’Avezac-Macay wrote: “[l]et me bring these disconnected pages to a close, a hasty collection of incomplete data drawn from an unexpected source [Osifekunde] and one that too soon became silent. Especially during my work of coordination I have become conscious of many important gaps that remain to be filled; but I no longer have Osifekunde to answer my questions, and I can only offer the results of our long and often fruitless conversations”.

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